God, Football, the American Flag, and Nationalism.

pray lewis

1.19.13: One of my favorite views of Baltimore City right now is entering into the downtown area from the 395 off-ramp. Our city is painted with Ravens spirit-purple lights dancing on skyscrapers, “Go Ravens” posters taped to city windows, and, my favorite: the billboard that simply said “WOW” after the Raven’s win last Saturday. In fact, as I sit down to write this at the Towson Public Library, a woman just pointed out that the bookshelf next to me contains an entire collection of books with purple covers, complete with a border of purple stars cut out of construction paper.
Purple has become a unifying topic bringing complete strangers together in conversation. All week at work, I’ve asked patients, “You see the game last Saturday?” or I’d see someone wearing a purple scarf and fist bump in the air an amiable, “Go Ravens!” (and often hear, “I know, that’s right.”) I think this is one of the beautiful things about sports: its ability to bring people together, irrespective of socioeconomic status, race, or political beliefs.
But I can’t help but notice something else too.

When did “football” become so analogous with “God” like “God” and “America?” (i.e.
“God Bless America” bumper stickers, etc.) Faith and football, faith and flag. Is this what God is all about? In comments sections of Ray Lewis’ exhortation of “No Weapon Shall remain” are statements such as, “God was with our team.” Is God not with the team who loses? “God blessed our team.” Is God not blessing the teams who lose? Is God up in Heaven writing out the play by play of who will pass to who, and who will miss the ball, to make that person score, to make this team win?

Don’t get me wrong.

I’ve prayed throughout competitions. Not so much to win, but to focus my mind on something bigger than myself to draw upon for strength. I’m not saying people should or shouldn’t pray or talk about their faith in the arena of sports.

But what I am questioning is the amount we partner “God” with “football.” In a nation with “In God We Trust” written on our currency, and in a nation in which “God Bless America” is uttered in many speeches, auditoriums, and pre-game concerts, I wonder at what point we’ve made a show out of God being on “our side.”

What would it look like to live in a world in which we had murals about praying for peace, rather than praying for football? What would it look like to talk about God in correlation with social justice as frequently as God is talked about with America and football? What if we had prayer rallies not for our team to win, but for no children to be trafficked at the Super Bowl? As Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott stated prior to the 2011 Superbowl in Arlington, Texas,

 “The Super Bowl is the greatest show on Earth, but it also has an ugly underbelly. It’s commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”

Something tells me we are off kilter when we pray for teams to win the Superbowl, while forgetting about 14 year old girls sold off as “Superbowl Specials.” Because when you look at Jesus’ priorities, it was always for those on the fringe to be brought into inclusion, while nationalism and religiosity were shunned.

So bring on the purple. Pray about anything and everything. But let’s realize that God is much bigger than football. God is much bigger than America. God cares about more than blessing solely either one of those. Let’s remember that God loves and blesses all people, and for those who do not experience such blessings due to poverty and war, let’s be conduits of peace and justice. And win or lose, let’s know how deeply God loves our opponents, our enemies, and ourselves, showing no favoritism while at the same time cheering each of us on to become more and more into the likeness of our Creator.

So, what do you think?
What does America most often couple God with? Love? Justice? Homophobia? Sports?
Do you believe that God shows no favoritism while at the same time cheers us on as we seek God’s heart?

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